Archive : Dispute at BL hardens as more men strike

The gulf between British Leyland and the Transport and General Workers’ Union to which most of the 17,000 men on strike at company plants belong. appears to be widening although management and union are to meet tomorrow. Mini production at Longbridge, in Birmingham, stopped last night. Company-union talks called for tomorrow by Donald Macintyre Labour Reporter

British Leyland is to meet union leaders tomorrow to discuss the increasingly bitter confrontation over the company’s pay and conditions package. The number of BL Cars employees on official strike in protest at the company’s imposition of its proposals increased yesterday by 3000 to about 17,000 of the 86,000 hourly paid work force.

With a further 5200 laid off, production of the Mini at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham had halted by last night. Production of Rover saloons, TR7s, Land-Rovers, Range Rovers and Sherpa vans was already at a standstill. As the newest and most crucial test of the company’s strategy appeared to be reaching a climax, Sir Michael Edwartdes, the chairman of BL, said that the jobs “of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” could be at risk if the strikes were prolonged. Despite the announcement that the talks would go ahead, the gulf between the company and the Transport and General Worker s’ Union, to whom nearly all the strikers belong, appeared to widen.

Mr Mostyn Evans, the union’s general secetary, at whose initiative the talks were arranged, was himself careful to describe them as “exploratory “. The company said officially it wanted to ” listen to what the unions had to say”, including any new proposals which Mr Evans and his colleagues might make. Executives however made it clear privately that the company has no intention of re-opening negotiations on the proposals for widespread changes in working practices attached to the pay increases of between 5 and 10 per cent.

The sharp division between the TGWU and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, the second biggest union in the company, was underlined when the latter’s executive reaffirmed its instruction to its 23,000 BL members to work normally. Mr Terence Duffy, the AUEW president, said the question of a specific instruction to cross TGWU picket lines had not arisen because there had been no requests to the executive for authority to observe them. Asked if there was a split, Mr Duffv said: “If there is it is not of our making “.

He added: “We want Leyland to be a successful venture and a breathing space is now needed”.

As he returned from a business trip to South Africa, Sir Michael Edwardes said:  “This is precisely the wrong moment for anyone to walk out. That goes for Moss Evans. I wish he would recognize the need of the moment and back the company ……..If Mr Evans is successful in the strike, he will throw out of work tens if not hundreds of thousands of people “.

Mr Evans, who at the weekend became directly involved for the first time in the dispute when he had informal contacts with Mr Pat Lowry, BL director of personnel, said in response: “Of course it is the wrong time for a dispute. But it is also the wrong time to impose a whole heap of new conditions on employees without union agreement. Sir Michael should know better than anybody how irresponsible he is being. I am always optimistic and I hope that Sir Michael will now recognise, as we all have to do from time to time, that his tactics have been wrong.”

The halt to Mini production and 2,500 new lay-offs at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham, where the strike call has been largely ignored, were caused yesterday mainly by the strike of 1,300 at the Castle Bromwich body plant. Under the pay package unskilled or semi-skilled workers, the majority of whom are in the TGWU, receive 5 per cent increases; skilled workers get 10 per cent. But TGWU officials were suggesting that the new working conditions in the package were at least as central.

These include moves to much greater inter-departmental and inter-trade flexibility, acceptance of new shift patterns where required by management, and an effective end to “mutuality ” where manning and other issues have been negotiated with local union officials.

Keith Adams

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